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Governance and Accountability in the FE Sector

Response from UNISON Scotland to the Scottish Executive Consultation Paper:


UNISON Scotland is a trade union, representing the majority of support staff working in Scottish Further Education Colleges. Our members include managerial, administrative and technical staff, dealing with business development, finance, personnel matters, support services, admissions, information provision, advertising, European Social Fund; board secretaries, librarians, staff in flexible study centres, careers staff, nurses, nursery nurses, drivers, personal assistants for students with learning or physical disabilities, general administration, secretarial and clerical staff, janitorial, cleaning, catering and maintenance staff.

UNISON Scotland welcomes the Scottish Executive's review of Governance and Accountability in the Further Education Sector and is pleased to be invited to make comments on the consultation paper.

UNISON believes it is important for the sector to be able to demonstrate good governance and management of the public funds granted to Scottish Further Education Colleges.

In addition, however, we want board members to be properly trained and aware of the range of their responsibilities. In particular we feel that board members should be aware that they are employers of thousands of staff, both teaching and support staff, across Scotland. This means that they should have a working knowledge of current human resource issues and current legislation affecting their employees, such as the Race Relations Act, Sex Discrimination and Equal Pay legislation; Family Friendly legislation, Working Time Regulations, Health & Safety at Work Act, etc.

UNISON wants those members of staff who are members of College Boards of Governors to be afforded equal status with other board members, and given appropriate time off, by providing the necessary cover arrangements to enable them to carry out their responsibilities as efficiently as possible.

UNISON is willing to look at this in a spirit of partnership, recognising that staff are equal stakeholders in the proper governance of Further Education Colleges.


Appointment of Board Members

UNISON Scotland would support the standardisation of appointments procedures under guidelines drawn up by SFEFC, which must demonstrate openness, transparency and impartiality, whilst allowing local flexibility so that local circumstances can be addressed in an appropriate way.

We see no reason why local boards should not retain the ability to appoint new members, whilst ensuring the principles above are adhered to.

We feel the 12-year limit on board membership is too long and that a shorter maximum term should be introduced which would create a better balance between experience and the new skills needed to bring a fresh approach to the boards. We think a better time limit would be 5 to 8 years.

Securing the Right Skills Mix

UNISON Scotland supports the current requirement for college boards to include people with professional, commercial, industrial or employment experience but would place greater emphasis on the need for board members to have experience of employment issues, particularly in the human resource field. Local Councils and Local Enterprise companies would fall into this category.

UNISON would wish board members to appreciate the need to recognise that they are the employers of thousands of staff throughout Scotland, both teaching and support staff and they need to be aware that the decisions they are required to take affects the livelihoods and wellbeing of their staff. They are not there to rubberstamp decisions taken by other people, they must make the decisions themselves.

UNISON is aware that there are members of both teaching and support staff who sit on college boards, but they are often not given equal status with other board members. Staff members need to be treated as equal stakeholders in the college structure, and as board members, given the necessary training and time off to enable them to fulfil their roles to the best of their ability. This would need to be done by providing cover for the times they were away from their normal jobs.

Guidance, Induction, Training and Development

UNISON welcomes recognition of the need to improve induction and introduce ongoing training for members of college boards of management.

To fulfil their role as employer we would wish to emphasise the need for board members to be familiar with current employment legislation such as the Race Relations Act, sex and disability discrimination acts, equal pay legislation, family friendly requirements, health and safety law, etc.

We believe that the introduction of standard guidance on Staff Governance, possibly using the framework adopted by the NHS as a model, would be one way to fill this gap.

UNISON believes that appropriate training packages should be drawn up by the SFEFC who should have the responsibility of ensuring that such training is carried out in all Further Education Colleges across Scotland. This would provide consistency of approach in all Further Education Colleges, and ensure that the training given was of the highest quality.

Facilitating improvements in Governance and Management

The position of Board Secretary is a very important role in a Further Education College, as they organise the board meetings and enable them to carry out their business. However, we feel that the secretary to the Board should have a more professional role, being someone who can give independent, impartial advice to the Board on meeting its legal responsibilities and ensuring that it operates within its constitution and stated policies. The post should have less emphasis on the clerical, minute taking, administrative responsibilities, involved with organising Board meetings whilst ensuring that competent members of staff carry these out.

The person appointed should not necessarily be a member of the board, who is intimately involved in strategic and operational matters as we believe this could compromise the independence and impartiality of the secretary.

We would support the creation of a centre of expertise to provide resource materials on good practice, experiences, etc., and believe this would best be organised by the SFEFC, working in partnership with all stakeholders, including trade unions in the FE Sector.

Ministers' Power to Remove or Replace Board Members

UNISON believes that the current powers of Scottish Ministers to remove or replace a member of a College Board are adequate, when considered along with the powers of the boards themselves to self-regulate. If proper cognisance were taken of the overall functioning of the board, any lesser infringements of propriety should be dealt with at that level.

Possible SFEFC Powers to Intervene Directly in Cases of Poor Governance

UNISON believes that the role of SFEFC should be strengthened to give it the direct power to intervene when problems are seen to arise. We favour Ministers delegating some of their powers, such as Section 21, to SFEFC to enable them to give directions to boards in cases of poor governance, providing consistency across Scotland. We see merit in considering a similar power to that afforded to the Learning and Skills Council in England to appoint up to two members of the governing body of a Further Education College. We also support providing SFEFC with the right to send observers to college board and committee meetings.

SFEFC Accountable Officer's Limited Powers to ensure Propriety and Value for Money in the Stewardship of Public Funds

UNISON supports a review of the Financial Memorandum between SFEFC and each college board to require the college Accountable Officer to provide information to the Chief Executive of SFEFC on demand, or to report to the Chief Executive on matters relating to financial propriety and value for money.

UNISON also supports an amendment to current arrangements for the appointment of local Accountable Officers in each college, so that the SFEFC Chief Executive would have to confirm, prior to the appointment of a new Principal/Accountable Officer, that the proposed designation of the new officer was acceptable. In addition, if subsequently, new evidence arose casting doubts on the propriety of a designated Accountable Officer, then we would support powers for the SFEFC Chief Executive to advise the board of that situation, subject to appropriate process and appeal arrangements, in keeping with the principles of natural justice.

For Further Information Please Contact:

Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX
Tel 0141-332 0006 Fax 0141 342 2835

e-mail matt.smith@unison.co.uk

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